International spotlight: Accessing culture through service

Standing tall, Kirk Rose is second from the left.

International spotlight: Accessing culture through service

By Mara Kaufman

“I’m a poor member of a number of groups on campus,” jokes Kirk Rose because, although he aspires to be involved with numerous activities on the St. Thomas campus, there are two that have commandeered most of his time: being creator and coach of a rugby team on campus and serving as a student director for VISION.  

Far better than a “poor member” of Volunteers in Service Internationally or Nationally, the 21-year-old senior from Spencer, Iowa, is a vital component of the group, helping to find new and exciting trips during which participants can practice serving others. Rose became involved with VISION during his sophomore year at St. Thomas.

“I decided that I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do with my spring break,” Rose said. “I was at that point in my life where I wanted to be more individualistic and write my own story.”

Prior to VISION, Rose’s only international travel had been to Canada. Since joining VISION, however, Rose has been to Ireland and the Virgin Islands, and he just returned from VISION’s first service trip to Laos over J-Term. Rose even felt so empowered by his involvement with VISION that he took a monthlong trip to Germany by himself last summer.

“VISION opened up this whole new world of international travel,” Rose said.  Now, according to Rose, VISION has become so engrained in his lifestyle that his “heart starts beating” and his “legs start shaking” if he’s stuck in one place for too long.

After his first trip with VISION – to Frenchville, Penn. – over spring break of 2007, Rose says he put himself “on the line” by indicating to campus ministry that he was interested in a student leadership position.

“I wouldn’t say it was, like, a courageous step, but it was the first time I’ve done anything like that,” Rose said, adding that he “really had no clue” about what it meant to be a leader.

Rose’s first trip as a student leader was to Belfast, Ireland, over J-Term last year. The group worked closely with an organization called Youth With a Mission, a nondenominational Christian organization that seeks to give young people service opportunities, and which connected Rose’s VISION group with an after-school program in Belfast.

In addition to service, members of VISION focus on community, spirituality, simplicity, justice issues and cultural exchange in the locations the different groups visit. In Ireland, Rose said, this meant his group was “really looking to examine religious identities and the English and Irish clash.”

“It was really cool just seeing their understanding of what made them Irish,” Rose said, as well as having the opportunity for the students to share who they were as Americans.

Rose said he discovered through this exchange that “Irish and American culture is really similar in many ways,” although he found a different kind of richness in Irish food, storytelling and music.

Over spring break that same year, Rose led VISION’s first trip to the Virgin Islands, a site Rose referred to as an all-around “amazing piece of life,” filled with a great “environmental culture” and natural beauty. Even though he and the other group members found time to enjoy the location’s beauty through hiking and camping trips, they still put plenty of time into service.

“It was an intense week of really, really hard work,” Rose said.   “We worked on cleaning up these old ruin sites – sugar cane plantations from the 1700s or so. They had just become overrun, the rainforest reclaiming the territory.”  

To help restore the land, the group worked on cutting down nonnative species of plants to return the land to a more natural environment.

In finding new service sites – such as the Virgin Islands and Laos – Rose says the group of VISION leaders tries to think of new ways to put justice and spirituality to work. They also ask themselves, “Where may people not ever have the chance to go again?”

One of these brainstorms resulted in the new location in Laos, a new trip Rose led this January. Rose says the trip to Laos “hits on a ton of our components that we’re excited to expand in a different kind of way.”

As a student director for VISION, Rose is energized by these kinds of opportunities.

“I had these wonderful experiences (through VISION), and I wanted to be an enabler in helping others to be able to have access to these totally different cultures,” Rose said. “It compelled me to take the next step.”

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